On July 14 this year, the streets of Nice in France were lined with people preparing to celebrate Bastille Day, just as they have done since 1789.
Back then, the name Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was just another proper noun – nothing more, nothing less, but now that name will be forever synonymous with the horrendous Nice attacks.
Bouhlel was the man behind the wheel of the lorry which drove at high speed into celebratory crowds of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, killing 86 people and severely injuring over 100 others on Promenade Des Anglais.
In the immediate aftermath of that barbaric attack – which will forever stain our memories as one of the darkest days in French history – countless media outlets and prominent politicians, such as French President Francois Hollande, suggested the attack may have been Islamic Terrorism.
Two days later, the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Jihadist propaganda site, Amaq News Agency, released a statement in the days that followed stating that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was ‘one of the soldiers of the Islamic State’.
However, French authorities did not find any real links between Bouhlel and the Islamic State – or any terrorist organisation at all for that matter.
Bouhlel was later described as a ‘mentally unstable man’ with conflicting religious beliefs and a ‘string of relationships’ with both men and women.
It is possible that Bouhlel was inspired by Islamic State propaganda and in a moment of disillusionment he closed the door to his small flat and got into the cab of his weapon – a lorry.
But does that mean he was a soldier of the Islamic State or not? His connections with them were non-existent and they had never been in contact with one another – ISIS was merely just more ‘grist to the mill’ of the clearly unstable Bouhlel.
If one was to describe the Nice attacks in one word, chances are that word would be ISIS. But there were no links.
The Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, what word springs to mind above all others? ISIS? No real links.
The mall stabbing in Minnesota. ISIS claims it was another ‘one of their soldiers’ but, again, there are no real links.
And the recent attacks in New York and New Jersey – although nothing has been claimed, a word that seems to be buzzing in everybody’s ears is ISIS. But there is no legitimate connection.
These are just a few very recent examples of how ISIS are able to manipulate the barbarous attacks of individuals and claim them as their own to spread fear, and to do so successfully.
Ben Taub, a journalist for The New Yorker, has warned that by referring to attacks – which have no real connection to ISIS – as attacks orchestrated by the terrorist group, we are merely feeding their barbaric cause.
Speaking to Longform Podcast, he said:
I have this fear and concern that ISIS has really perfected its media approach and that we contribute to its expansion and to the proliferation of future attacks.
ISIS has created this framework so that anybody can claim affiliation right before doing an attack and the only instructions are to make it public. So a Facebook post, or as Omar Mateen [the Pulse Nightclub attacker] did – make a phone call to the police announcing your intentions.
Ben went on to explain why this is so important, adding:
Now that phone call is public record and of course it’s going to get reported. And because it’s getting reported – even though, or even if, he and anyone else who does an attack has never been in touch with a single person in ISIS – by being reported in the international press, ISIS finds out about it, and about him, and then ISIS claims him as one of their own therefore affording him this ideological certainty that by all accounts, in terms of Omar Mateen, seems he didn’t really have.
It also guarantees more press for his atrocity while guaranteeing that any loser can be spoken about by presidents and world leaders – not by carrying out a massacre, but by carrying out a massacre in the name of a terror group.
And I have this real concern about how we approach this and how we allow the group to proliferate its links and allow people such as domestic abusers and psychopaths to rend apart western civilisation [by being linked to ISIS] and force intolerance upon actual Muslims in the countries they reside.
I think it is really deeply important for reporters across the board, and politicians too – however unreceptive many of them may be to this – to be so careful about framing or using the word terrorism or the word ISIS.
Essentially, what Ben is saying is that ISIS will happily claim responsibility for any attack which even mildly complies with their sick and hate-filled ideology – and we, as journalists, politicians, or even just people in general, must be careful to stay away from such comparisons.
ISIS is giving any psychotic lunatic on the street an opportunity to become infamous by going out into a busy city or shopping mall or nightclub and causing terror.
No matter what their relations with Islam are like, and no matter what their skillset is – ISIS will claim responsibility if it means that they can use the attack to spread fear, and terror, and further their aim of waging war on the west.
By claiming responsibility for attacks in Europe or America, ISIS makes its way into the headlines of our newspapers and television screens, distracting us from the immutable and persistent defeats they are facing in the Middle East due to Russian, French, American and UK led airstrikes and attacks by the YPJ, FSA, PKK, and many more.
ISIS are massively under threat and by claiming responsibility they achieve their goal by spreading fear and distress across the entirety of the Western World.
Do not fall victim to it.
ISIS did not orchestrate the attacks in Nice. ISIS did not orchestrate the attacks in Orlando. ISIS did not orchestrate the attacks in New York, New Jersey, or even Minnesota – but they will continue to claim responsibility in order to spread their irrational ideology of hate.
Joseph Loftus is a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist with four years experience working for international and regional press.
As well as working for UNILAD and LADbible, Joseph has worked as Liverpool Correspondent for Unsigned & Independent Magazine, as well as stints with the Liverpool Echo and Warrington Guardian.